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December 21, 2012: Stay at home dad Yariv Wolfe out shoveling the drive way after a storm with his children Ma'ayan 8, Tzipi 6, Ari 3 in Ottawa. (Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)
December 21, 2012: Stay at home dad Yariv Wolfe out shoveling the drive way after a storm with his children Ma'ayan 8, Tzipi 6, Ari 3 in Ottawa. (Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)

The decline of men? Actually, it’s a release Add to ...

This article is part of Next, The Globe's five-day series examining the people, places, things and ideas that will shape 2013.

This year, men took it in the teeth. Young men were chastised for not using their brains to get themselves off to university, making them poor marriage pickings for their savvy, ambitious female peers. Older men were getting pink slips, from their employers, and from their self-sufficient, fed-up boomer wives, marking a rise in the “silver-haired” divorce rate. Women were trying to “have it all,” while men settled with the leftovers, or tried to keep up. Doom and gloom was the dominate storyline. The prevailing message: For one gender to rise, the other must fall.

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That’s a one-dimensional script, however, for a 3-D-world. For starters, predicting the end of men is premature when on average they still earn more than women and dominate the boardrooms of North America. As that changes, men can’t lay claim, unchallenged, to the corner office. But they also won’t get squeezed out of bedtime stories. In many homes, especially among those of middle-class men faring so poorly in the public eye, and the young men seen to be dithering their lives away, a quiet accommodation is well on its way.

“Younger men assume greater equality at work and at home than any other generation of men in history,” argues sociologist Michael Kimmel, founder and editor of the journal Men and Masculinities, and the author of Guyland: the Perilous World Where Boys become Men. And, as he writes in a recent commentary on the current “men-ending” rhetoric, it’s both inaccurate – and grossly unfair – to cast men as “antediluvian dinosaurs, unwilling or unable to adapt, slouching towards extinction.”

The men Kimmel studies expect their wives to work, assume they will be involved fathers, are comfortable with women as colleagues, and open to gay marriage – a value which itself upends the traditional gender roles of straight partnership. That’s an attitudinal turnaround Betty Friedan couldn’t have imagined when she described housewife ennui in The Feminine Mystique. The book, credited with launching the second-wave of feminism, will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. In Friedan’s world, men were the villains, or at least the willfully blind; a half-century later, that us-against-them posture is counterproductive. “Gender equality is not a zero sum game,” says Kimmel. “The rise of women is not the end of men, it’s the beginning.”

Consider these statistics: According to a 2012 national study on work-balance and caregiving by Carleton University’s Linda Duxbury and Christopher Higgins at Western University, which surveyed more than 24,000 Canadians, women were either primary earners or equal breadwinners in just over half of participating families. One in three women said their partner had primary responsibility for child care. And in dual-income families, men and women reported that they were equally likely to miss work for child and elder care.

In Quebec, where provisions for parental leave are the highest in the country, 84 per cent of men took time off for the birth or adoption of a child in 2010 – an increase from 22 per cent in 2004. Over the last decade, men have steadily increased the hours spent on housework (though, yes, even working wives do more) and child care – responsibilities that balance out even more among younger men. And while stay-at-home dads are still in the minority, their numbers are also up: 12 per cent in 2011, from 7 per cent in 1996.

For Yariv Wolfe, a 44-year-old stay-at-home dad in Ottawa with four kids, the decision was a no-brainer: He worked long hours, with no guaranteed benefits. His wife, Georgette, earned more, and she didn’t want to stay home, but they agreed that one of them should. It’s important, he says, that they made the choice together; “If one person, man or woman, feels forced to stay at home, or, hell, forced into working in a coal mine, then it will be a negative experience.” So Wolfe juggles the kids, cooks and cleans. “We look at our family as a team; we are racing with each other, not against each other.”

The ‘male provider’ bill of goods

The decline of the male advantage, observes Stephanie Coontz, research director at the Council of Contemporary Families Evergreen State College in Washington State, means, “men are released from the burden of doing all the providing. They are no longer denied the satisfaction of being involved parents and partners at home. Both men and women are free to be more well-rounded human beings.” In writing her latest book, A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s, Coontz says she interviewed men who raised families in that time period, and who, “actually cried when they talked about how they had been sold a bill of goods by the ‘male provider’ model of masculinity.” Their sons – and mostly their grandsons – have paid attention.

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